Texas Judge Allows Pre-game Prayer

Santa Fe, TX Ė In an ironic twist of events, one week after students at a Stephenville (TX) High School football game prayed after being forbidden to do so by a federal judge, a high school student in Santa Fe, Texas had her right to pray at a public high school football game upheld by another federal judge.

Marian Lynn Ward, of Santa Fe High School, went to the microphone accompanied by her high school principal and thunderous applause from the crowd. After the prayer, the crowd cheered for a minute and a half. Earlier in the week, the Santa Fe district superintendent warned students that anyone who violated an appeals court ruling banning pre-game prayer would be disciplined.

But hours before the game, U.S. District Judge Sim Lake of Houston issued a temporary restraining order barring school officials from punishing anyone who prayed. Ward was elected by her classmates to deliver inspirational remarks before the game. The Baptist ministerís daughter included references to deity and other things that school officials had said she could not do, and closed her prayer using the name of Christ.

Paul Bricker, 57, of Santa Fe said he hadnít been to a football game in 30 years, but came this night to hear Marian Ward pray. "It was great, wonderful. I love it. Thank God for that girl." Bricker said.

Houston attorney Kelly Coghlan, representing Ward, filed suit against the district late Thursday. Coghlan said although Ward had not indicated she would pray, he believed the superintendentís threat of discipline violated her Constitutional right to speak freely. "I do not want a government that tells students they must pray, but I do not want a government either that stifles genuinely student-initiated prayer." Coghlan said.

A national debate over school-sanctioned prayer focused on Santa Fe in 1995 when two families filed suit against the Galveston County school district, challenging its policies allowing student-led prayer. While the New Orleans based 5th Circuit Court supported prayer at high school commencements, its ruling on sporting events ended the football game tradition across Texas, Louisiana and Arkansas.

The Santa Fe school district has petitioned the Supreme Court to review the case, citing an 11th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals ruling that makes pre-game prayer legal in Alabama, Florida and Georgia.

Jeff Adams
September 15, 1999